Eight days after a request from the Express, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday produced a signed copy of a letter written by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell SC to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar where she withdrew her call for an investigation into attorneys in prison litigation.
She had expressed concern that the attorneys were engaged in an unethical business venture.
Ramlogan had first released the unsigned letter, allegedly from Donaldson-Honeywell on April 19 in response to questions from the Sunday Express on an article first citing the former solicitor general’s concerns.
The Sunday Express had requested further the Attorney General produce a signed letter.
On Saturday, a request was again made by the Sunday Express to provide a signed copy of the follow up letter.
Ramlogan had responded: “I was advised by the SG that she had in fact sent that letter to the PM. I do not know if I have a signed copy. You have contacted me on a weekend and staff would not be able to check my files.”
Yesterday, Ramlogan issued a copy of the letter, signed by Donaldson-Honeywell, with receipt acknowledged by the Ministry of the Attorney General dated November 2013; the specific date was obscured.
Donaldson-Honeywell resigned from the Office of the Attorney General on November 12.
Along with the letter, Ramlogan issued a release criticising the Sunday Express for its lead story “Curious case of unsigned letter” where it was reported that the letter sent by Donaldson-Honeywell to the Prime Minister on October 22, 2013, was unsigned.
Donaldson-Honeywell did not confirm or deny to the Sunday Express that she did not sign the letter.
On August 30, 2013 Donaldson-Honeywell wrote to Persad-Bissessar requesting that she initiate an investigation into attorneys involved in litigation against the State and whether there was a breach of professional ethics for indirect or direct financial gain.
The October 22 letter retracted this request.
In a release yesterday, Ramlogan stated that the story gives the impression that there might be some wrong doing or fraud.
Ramlogan said he was not informed by Express journalists that Donaldson-Honeywell’s comments had given rise to concerns surrounding the letter and had he been afforded the opportunity to respond he would have pointed out that there was no story as he had a signed copy of the letter.
The AG stated that the allegations made by Donaldson-Honeywell “were thoroughly investigated and there was no evidence whatsoever to support the allegations being made by the Express’ sister radio station Radio i95.5FM that there was collusion on the part of the attorneys in my ministry and those external attorneys representing prisoners to procure favourable settlements”.
He stated that attorneys in his legal departments are independently appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.
“They are professionals and have the utmost integrity. I therefore reject any allegation of collusion or wrongdoing. The procedure for settlement is such that it has inherent safeguards and checks and balances. Different attorneys are randomly assigned files and senior lawyers have to review and endorse any advice recommending settlement before it comes to the Solicitor General who must approve and recommend it to the Attorney General,” stated the AG.
The State, he stated, can only defend matters where there is evidence to support a viable event.
“In the case of the Prison Service this is in fact an exception and my attorneys are criticised by judges for wasting the courts time by proceeding to defend cases with shaky defences,” stated Ramlogan.
He stated that the settlement of these kinds of matters pre-dated his appointment as AG.
Ramlogan quoted from Justice Judith Jones’s ruling in Antonio Sobers vs the AG that:
“In recent years there has been brought before the court an increasing number of cases alleging brutality by servants of the State and, in particular, police and prison officers. Statistics provided by the court reveal that of a total of 427 cases of assault and battery filed in the High Court during the period 16th of September 2005 to 31st May 2012. 302 matters were alleging assault and/or battery by persons employed by the State.
To put it another way, 71 per cent of the cases alleging assault and/ or battery filed in the High Court of Justice between 16th September 2005 to 31st May 2012 are cases alleging abuse by way of physical assault by servants of the State. The cost of these actions to the reputation of the Police and Prison Services cannot be measured. Nor am I qualified to assess the effect of this “institutionalised” violence on our increasingly violent society.
I can however compute the cost so far in terms of money to the State and ultimately to taxpayers. Of the 302 matters filed to date 157 have been determined; of these 120 have resulted in damages being paid to the claimant. From this it is reasonable to conclude that of the 157 matters completed 37 matters were found to be without merit.
Of those 120 actions damages have only been assessed in 100 so far. Awards with respect to interest apart the State has paid or is liable to pay some $10,265,776.14 in compensation to litigants with respect to these actions. These figures do not include those persons who would be entitled to damages pursuant to this judgment”.
Ramlogan stated that for the sake of transparency, he was willing to allow the media to inspect the relevant documents in any case file concerning prisoners, so that they can see for themselves the lengthy procedures and the justification for any settlement which was recommended by the Ministry’s lawyers and the Solicitor General.
“As AG, I have not settled any matter without the recommendation, advice and support of the Solicitor General. Her handwritten notation recommending settlement will in fact be endorsed on every file. Name the matter and I will allow the file to be inspected as it will be a closed case once there was a settlement,” he stated.
He stated further that the headline quote “AG says no conflict” had no relationship whatsoever to the story.
Ramlogan stated this comment came from a different and totally unrelated story, “but was disingenuously put as part of the headline to give the false impression that I had been contacted on the statements made by Ms Donaldson-Honeywell and given the opportunity to respond.”
“The comment ‘I see no conflict’ was in response concerns by the Prisons Association over the appointment of Daniel khan as the Inspector of Prisons on the supposition that he represents prisoners in matters against the State. I replied that I saw no conflict as the premise was false as Daniel Khan has never in fact represented any prisoner or the State in any matter involving allegation against the Prison Service. This Q&A was published in the Sunday Express,” stated Ramologan.
The sub-heading “no conflict” was referring to the AG’s response when asked to explain the different letterheads used by the former SG in her letters. His response was: “There is no conflict here. The Solicitor General is a department that is part of the Ministry of the Attorney General and both letterheads can and are in fact used by the Solicitor General.”